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World experts gather in York to discuss the Mystery of the Sapphire Ring

Posted on 9 January 2013

Leading experts are gathering in York later this month to try and solve the mysteries of a unique sapphire ring found near the city.

The sapphire ring. Photo by Kippa Matthews

The ring, which is the second earliest example of the use of sapphire ever found in the country, has baffled archaeology experts because nothing has ever been found like it before. Its intricate design was made by a highly skilled craftsman for an extremely wealthy and powerful person.

But its style and material makes it hard to date – meaning it can’t be placed in any historical context which would give clues to its origins or possible owners.

Now experts are coming to York on January 25 in a bid to solve some of the ring’s mysteries at an event organised by the University of York and the Yorkshire Museum, where the ring is on public display.

Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “This beautiful ring has really got us puzzled. Nothing like it has ever been found before which means it is incredibly difficult for us to date it and therefore build up a picture around it.

“To try and get a better understanding we have invited leading experts from across the country to come and see the ring up close and share their thoughts. It is a rare chance to get such a distinguished group together and we hope it will help us shed new light on the ring which may reveal some of its secrets.”

Katy Cubitt, a Professor of Early Medieval History in the University of York’s Department of History, said: "The early medieval gold and sapphire ring found at Escrick is a discovery of major national importance. It's an extraordinary and intriguing piece and the forthcoming workshop will be a very exciting event which, we hope, will shed light on the origin and manufacture of the ring."

The early medieval gold and sapphire ring found at Escrick is a discovery of major national importance

Katy Cubitt

Experts from some of the UK’s top universities and leading museums will be attending the event. The maker of a replica of the ring from the Little Diamond Shop, on Lendal in York, will also attend to share his knowledge on the skills used to remake it and how this might compare to the original craftsmen. 

The nationally important gold ring was found by metal detectorist Michael Greenhorn, from York and District Metal Detecting Club, in 2009. It measures around 2.5cm across and is intricately made of gold, prestige glass and a large sapphire. This is the second known use of a sapphire in jewellery found in the country, the first being a 5th Century Roman example. 

The ring was certainly worn by someone of very high status; but whether they were male or female, and during which period they lived, remains unclear. The style of the ring and the materials used also make it hard to date and this will be the main area of debate for the experts at the workshop. The Yorkshire Museum has raised £35,000 to buy the ring, with generous grants of £10,000 from the Art Fund, £10,000 from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, £10,000 from the Headley Trust and £1,000 from the York Philosophical Society.

Notes to editors:

  • Department of History
  • For more information, images and interviews, contact Lee Clark, York Museums Trust, on 01904 687673 or email lee.clark@ymt.org.uk
  • The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity, helping UK museums and galleries to buy, show and share art. It offers many ways of enjoying art through the National Art Pass which gives free entry to over 200 museums, galleries and historic houses across the country as well as 50% off major exhibitions. Over the past 5 years, the Art Fund has given £24 million to 248 museums and galleries to buy art. It also sponsors the UK tour of the ARTIST ROOMS collection – reaching several million people each year, and fundraises: recent campaigns include bringing in £6 million to save the Staffordshire Hoard for the West Midlands and Brueghel the Younger’s The Procession to Calvary for Nostell Priory. It is funded entirely by its 80,000 supporters who believe great art should be for everyone to enjoy. Find out more about the Art Fund and how to buy a National Art Pass at www.artfund.org.

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